This story starts with a bell.
There’s also the slanting sun, and the hawks overhead. The rooster and the goat and the town and the mist and the church above the clouds. There’s the radio, with its message that chilled the boy to the bone.
It is April 1994. In Agabande, Rwanda, Pascal’s life is good. He has a friend called Henry who he loves to play with, a mother and father who love him. They are not wealthy, but there is food on the table and they work hard. His biggest problem is his pesky older brother, who shirks work whenever he can and plays tricks on Pascal too. But things have started to change. There is strange talk on the radio about ‘cockroaches’ and people around town are looking at each other strangely. The neighbours have left town without saying goodbye. Pascal’s parents tell him not to worry, but in one terrible night everything changes forever.
One Thousand Hills tells the story of the terrible events of 1994, where eight hundred thousand Rwandans were slaughtered in just 100 days, and many more were forced to flee the country. Told in third person from the perspective of young Pascal, but broken with interviews between Pascal and a school counsellor five years after the events, the reader is given the opportunity to witness the trauma of the events and their long term aftermath.
Pascal’s experiences – and those of the people around him – are heart-breaking, and as a child character readers are given the opportunity to see the innocence of childhood being shockingly eroded. This is an important insight into both the events of Rwanda and to the experiences which bring refuges to our shores.
One Thousand Hills, by James Roy & Noel Zihabamwe
Omnibus Books, 2016
’Bro, listen to me,’ Diz pleads, sliding to the edge of his seat and holding out his hands. ‘Fight club’s for posers. Lebs fight for good reason, not to show off. You don’t need to prove nothing’.’
’He’s challenged me, bro. What do you want me to do? Say no? Do you want him to tell everyone Lebs are chickens? He’s had one Leb fight him and he’s already bagging us out.’
Romeo Machlouf is in year ten at a boys school. He has good mates and tries to stay out of trouble, though it isn’t always easy. When a fight club starts up, he isn’t interested – he doesn’t want to fight. But he might not have a choice, because Lebs stick together, and don’t take any crap from Ozzies, or from Fobs either.
Bro is a coming of age story about growing up: first love, identity, violence and its consequences are all explored through the first person voice of Romeo. At the same time, the themes of belonging and race are explored both dramatically and poignantly. Romeo and his friends are all ‘Lebs’ – Australian born but of Lebanese descent (though Romeo’s mother was not Lebanese) – and the school and their broader social circle is very much divided into racial groups . The other groups include the Fobs (‘fresh off the boat’), Maoris, Samoans, Tongans and other islanders ; the Rez (an Arabic word for rice, Asian students; and the Ozzies, “white skinned boys”. Tensions between the groups often run high, and the fight club that springs up in the school is contested along race lines.
An emotional read, Bro tackles important issues in a really accessible way.
Bro, by Helen Chebatte
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016